'Colony': Carlton Cuse on Season 2 "Reset" and Letting Its "Sci-Fi Freak Flag Fly"

"We wanted to make the second season a place where you could jump in and really enjoy it," the co-creator tells THR about the USA Network drama's sophomore run.
Justin Stephens/USA Network

[Warning: This story contains spoilers for the season two premiere of USA Network's Colony.]

When executive producers Carlton Cuse and Ryan Condal first developed Colony, the USA Network series set in an alien-occupied Los Angeles, the pair were interested in exploring an unusual idea.

"Ryan and I spent a lot of time thinking about how to do an alien invasion show without … well, without the aliens and without the invasion," Cuse told The Hollywood Reporter in an interview last year. "We didn't want to show the invasion. We didn't want to show the aliens. We didn't want the show to be about our characters battling the aliens. We wanted this show to be an espionage thriller set against this intense science-fiction backdrop."

At the time, Cuse conceded that viewers might eventually see how the show's so-called "Hosts" first arrived in Los Angeles, but added that it was "highly unlikely that you'll see a traditional version of the arrival … where people are looking up at the sky and spaceships are coming down." And yet, the final image of the season two premiere's first act, before cutting to the title card, is a cluster of unidentified flying objects soaring through the sky — and while the timing is perhaps off, there is certainly a moment where protagonist Will Bowman (Josh Holloway) watches in horror as alien ships arrive and form the basis of the massive walls that separate the Los Angeles and Santa Monica Blocs.

Indeed, the vast majority of the episode dials the clock back to the day of the arrival, depicting the show's various characters in their final moments before the world as they know it changes forever. For instance, Katie Bowman (Sarah Wayne Callies) is not yet the Resistance fighter seen throughout season one, instead focusing on keeping her family safe in the midst of the invasion — a feat she can't fully accomplish since her son Charlie (Jacob Buster) is trapped in Santa Monica. Likewise, her fellow rebel Eric Broussard (Tory Kittles) is shown in a more human light, caring for his ailing mother before narrowly escaping his own certain doom as the aliens target and destroy a safe house for seasoned soldiers. As for Will, he's wrestling with the revelation that his FBI partner Devon (Carolyn Michelle Smith) might be a dirty agent, only to realize that he has much bigger problems to worry about, like liberating his missing son from Santa Monica.

Speaking with THR, Cuse revealed why it was important for the season two premiere of Colony to explore the past before returning to the present, how the premiere serves as an "entry point" for new viewers, the stakes facing Will and Katie this season, the show's renewed science-fiction focus and much more about what to expect now that season two is fully underway.

How was it decided to set the season premiere on the day of the invasion?

My awesome partner Ryan Condal and I spent a lot of time talking about what we would want to see in a first episode of the second season. Fundamentally, it was really important to us that this show not be perceived as a mystery show. There are a lot of unanswered questions, but that's not what the show's about. It's about this family struggling to survive in a world where the game board has been turned upside down. It felt like a lot of people were asking questions about the arrival, so let's just show what happened. It felt like the right thing to do. It was a good reset. It also felt like a good way to create an entry point into the show for people who maybe didn't watch season one. I think the current technology in television has created a pervasive anxiety among viewers, which is you have to watch every episode of a show to engage with it. That's not always the way television was. When there was just linear television, you could cruise around. I remember somebody telling me at ABC once that by their measure, a regular and loyal Lost viewer watched two out of every four episodes.

Those viewers must have been very confused.

I know! Or maybe they were super smart. But we wanted to make it possible for you to start Colony in season two. Is it a richer experience if you have watched season one? Sure! But you can drop into this show starting with season two and get hooked. That was something that was important to us. We don't want an audience to feel daunted or feel that the show's already escaped them. Of course you can watch on Netflix and get caught up, but we wanted to make the second season a place where you could jump in and really enjoy it.

Conversely, did it feel risky at all to not immediately pick up the threads left dangling at the end of the season one finale?

No, we had enough faith in the audience that their curiosity would hold. And we do pick up on those threads by the end of the first episode. The last part of that first episode really connects into the finale from season one. We felt like you got both. It's kind of a surf-and-turf season premiere.

This episode introduces us to Will's old partner, Devon. What can we expect from this new character?

The idea was to show Will's life pre-invasion. We come to learn that his former partner is a complicated person who may or may not be reliable. We get to the end of the first episode and we see that he's really relying on her to find his son. We don't know whether she's a reliable and responsible person or not, and that's a huge issue. It's hopefully going to create a lot of tension as Will now tries to figure out where his son is, and how he's going to get him back into the LA Bloc.

On the day of the invasion, Will wrestles with learning that Devon might be on the take with some criminals. He draws a hard line against that kind of compromise. However, in season one, Will was certainly somebody who made his fair share of compromises. Does his concern about Devon in the premiere speak to the fact that Will is going to compromise himself even further in the coming season?

Yes. In a larger sense, all of the characters are put in a position where they have to make moral choices and moral compromises to survive in this world. The question for each character is what are they willing to do to survive? What kinds of compromises are they willing to make? For Will, he's now basically decided to do something that other people would say was a huge moral compromise. He went to work as a collaborator with the Authority, but he was sort of forced into doing it, and didn't see any other avenue. He thought there were opportunities that would arise from being in a position of power and knowledge. Other people would view that as a justification and a rationalization to do something that's essentially evil. That's really interesting, that you can view the same actions through different moral prisms. The show is having a good time, but it's also trying to plumb the depths of those issues and explore the kinds of choices that characters have to make when put in this kind of situation.

In season one, Will and Katie's marriage was right at the core of the show — specifically, Katie keeping her status as a member of the Resistance a secret from Will. The secret was out by the end of the season. The two are physically separated right now, of course, with Will searching for Charlie in Santa Monica, and Katie still in the Los Angeles Bloc. What are you hoping to explore in their marriage throughout season two?

I think the critical glue in any marriage is trust. That's the fundamental issue now between Will and Katie. What kind of trust exists between these characters? What are the consequences of the lies and the withholding of information from each other? For Ryan and I, we're trying to have the audience wonder if they can put this relationship back together. On a personal level, that's a huge goal for the season.

The premiere shows a softer side of Broussard, who we mostly know as a very mission-oriented soldier for the Resistance. What's in store for the character in season two?

Broussard is one of our favorite characters. Ryan and I wanted to show his personal side a little bit. He's been depicted so much as a soldier and a warrior. But fundamentally, we also love what a badass he is. He'll be very much a badass in the second half of the season. He's a character who is fundamentally critical to the survival of our little group of characters that we're following.

The premiere pulls the curtain back on how Snyder (Peter Jacobson) was recruited into the Authority. Should we expect to see the curtain pulled back more on how the Authority works this season?

Absolutely. There is a lot about the politics of the human government in our show. That's a fun part of the storytelling this season. Snyder is a very funny and devious and engaging and Machiavellian character. He's wonderfully complicated, with incredibly good and incredibly bad impulses. He's not very good at controlling either.

After the season one finale, you expressed your hope that season two would embrace the show's science-fiction bent more than ever before. Will we see that bear out?

Definitely. Ryan and I made a fundamental decision as we were conceiving season two to let our sci-fi freak flag fly. I don't think you can say that three times fast. (Laughs.) Our desire wasn't to make the show expositional. It's not our desire to hide the ball of what's going on in this world. You learn a lot about what's happening in this world this season. We wanted to embrace the science-fiction elements of it. Fundamentally, it's a science-fiction show, but like all good science-fiction, it mirrors the societal conditions in which it's created. We wanted the show metaphorically to be a look at occupation, subjugation, totalitarianism, the ways in which humans have this incredible propensity to subjugate each other when given the opportunity. At the same time, there are a lot of cool science-fiction elements in this. It's an alien invasion show, but it's not focused on that. That's what's really interesting to us. Yes, there are aliens and there's cool technology. One of the things we wanted to do was emphasize the surveillance state this season, and that's something that has a big science-fiction component. You'll see drone points of view. You'll get a clearer sense of how much everyone's being watched. That stuff is very fun for us, and we embraced it in season two.

In that regard, we see how the walls of the blocs are formed. It turns out that the walls are actually ships. How long have you known the true nature of the walls?

Way back when Ryan and I first conceived Colony, we talked about the overarching mythology. Part of that was wanting this event to happen very fast. The aliens came down and put these walls up around Los Angeles in a timetable that would not make any sense in human society or culture. Then as we started breaking out the show, it felt like the audience had to understand how exactly that was possible. How do they build out these massive, 300-foot-tall walls without people relocating? How did that happen? So we showed how that happened. We worked with our VFX team on coming up with the visual illustration of that idea, and we thought it would be a cool thing for the audience to see something they probably weren't expecting to see, especially on a television budget.

You can't put a wall ship on this show without Josh Holloway eventually pulling a Han Solo and flying one of these things, right?

Oh, my gosh. (Laughs.) You're putting ideas in my head. I like that. I think that's great.

Will Carl Weathers return as Beau this season?

To be frank, unfortunately, no. In the shifting sands of television, Carl has moved on and he's doing another show. I felt very nostalgic seeing him at the Golden Globes as a presenter. He was so good on the first season of the show. Our hope though is to revisit Beau as a character downstream in the series. We're hoping to work that out. Maybe season three. He's great, but we just had scheduling issues and couldn't see him this year.

Speaking of season three, it's certainly early days as we're only speaking about the season two premiere. But are you and Ryan looking far enough down the line that you're already discussing season three?

Absolutely. We have talked in general about stuff that would happen in season five or season six. We have a big-picture plan. We have talked about season three in quite a lot of detail. I'm hoping that we get to make this show for a long time.

What are your thoughts on the season two premiere? Sound off below, and click here for our previous Colony coverage.